Congress will require American automakers to achieve fleet-wide fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon by 2020. The deal struck late last night by Congressional negotiators and hailed as “an historic advancement,” would put America on the slow track towards meeting the same efficiency standards that Europe, China, and most of the developed world already enjoy.
Automakers are currently required to achieve fuel efficiency of 27.5 mpg for cars, and 22.2 mpg for light trucks, minivans, and SUVs. The Senate voted to raise fuel efficiency standards in June, but opposition from Detroit’s favorite spokesman, Michigan Congressman John Dingell, delayed House assent until now.
The package nearly fell apart this week when Mr. Dingell insisted on leaving sole authority to regulate automobile mileage standards with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an arm of the Transportation Department. That would have weakened the power of the Environmental Protection Agency and the states, led by California, to regulate auto emissions of carbon dioxide, which are in large measure a function of the amount of fuel burned.
Federal court rulings this year have decided this so-called pre-emption issue in favor of the E.P.A. and the states, decisions that Mr. Dingell hoped to undo by Congressional action. The traffic safety administration has had authority over fuel-efficiency standards since 1975 but has not imposed any significant increase since 1985. The E.P.A. is currently writing rules to comply with a Supreme Court ruling this year that gave it the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions and is weighing an application by California and 14 other states to set their own emissions standard.
The authority of the E.P.A. to regulate tailpipe emissions and the right of California and other states to set their own, higher standards were considered deal-breakers by Ms. Pelosi and her fellow California Democrat, Senator Dianne Feinstein. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican governor of California, weighed in late in the week to tell negotiators that he would oppose the bill if the Mr. Dingell’s preemption language stayed in.
Mrs. Pelosi and Democratic leaders in the Senate rejected Mr. Dingell’s preemption effort, but softened the blow by agreeing to allow the car companies to retain a credit for vehicles capable of running on a blend of gasoline and ethanol. That credit was set to expire in 2008 but now will begin to decline in 2014 and be eliminated entirely by 2020.
The fuel efficiency increase is part of a larger energy bill that the House and Senate leadership hope to pass by the end of the year.